- Imran Khan promised to be the voice, the ambassador of Kashmiris.
- Khan, on September 27, became part of world history as the voice, the ambassador of Kashmiris.
“You know, all I can think about right now is the world cup next year. I’ve to give it my all. It will be the last tournament of my career. I’ve to win it. That win will help me construct my hospital. I need to do it for my mother.”
Summer of 1991, slivers of an almost-forgotten monologue, that look of deep intensity shadowing those hooded eyes that crinkled into uneven lines as he laughed, that confident voice dipping into a solemnity that was unfamiliar...
And decades later, I remember those words as if from a reverie, the words of the then captain of Pakistan cricket team, and one of cricket’s excessively famous living legends–Imran Khan. I was in college, a childhood cricket and an Imran Khan fan–there were others that I admired but they were from other countries and the chance of meeting them was almost remote as me hitting a six with a real cricket ball instead of a tennis one during my school days of frequent cricket-playing in long shadowy days when life was simple, and John Travolta, Sanjay Dutt and Vivian Richards were pin-up idols.
Volunteering with Khan’s sister, Aleema, and friend, Omar Farooq, for Khan’s Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust’s (SKMT) initial fund-raising through a school and college campaign, while the Punjabi loud chatterbox me was mostly tongue-tied around Khan, during one of our brief conversations, he talked about the 1992 world cup. As a middle-aged woman, I still remember bits of what he said.
Khan and his team, despite being labelled the underdogs, won the 1992 World Cup in Australia. And then came that unforgettable victory speech–which made Khan look like a self-centred narcissist who forgot to give his team credit for their magnificent game. Emotional and hoarse after shouting in joy, what I remembered were Khan’s words a few months ago. Khan said he would win the world cup. And Khan did. Khan, along with his team, worked very, very hard, and won the world cup.
The next few years, wherever I saw Khan, it was in the context of fundraising for SKMT. His mission was Pakistan’s first-ever cancer hospital, his dedication was unwavering, his perseverance singular. Despite being impossibly shy and anti-social, Khan travelled to every corner of Pakistan, and every part of cricket-playing world or where the Pakistan diaspora existed. People loved Khan, and people trusted Khan. They helped him every step of the way, with every brick, every bed, every machine of the hospital. And on December 29,1984, SKMT, the dream Khan had after the very long and painful cancer ordeal and demise of his mother, Shaukat Khanum, turned into reality. Khan said he would make the first-ever cancer hospital in Pakistan. And Khan did.
One day, Khan embarked on his political journey, in pursuit of a Pakistan that would be a social welfare state, free of injustice, inequality and corruption. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), born on April 25, 1996, of not a very imaginative name and members that could be counted on one and a half hand, was only noteworthy because of its chairperson. Khan was a cricket god, former-playboy-now-husband to the stunning, 22-year-old Jemima Goldsmith; philanthropist; still self-centred; still arrogant about his ability to do the impossible; still impossibly good-looking; and forever an optimist. Not many, including his childhood fan like me, took Khan the new political-messiah-in-the-making too seriously.
Khan, one of his close friends told me once, had been burdened with a ‘prophecy’ of a seer that one day he would be the prime minister of Pakistan. Indulgently, I laughed. That was before the world was very cynical, and eye-rolling became the must-be-used diurnal expression.
Time moved as time does.
From 1997-2013, elections came and went. Governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were formed and dismissed. General Pervez Musharraf happened to Pakistan in an eight-year high-octane drama of much that can’t be fitted into the word-limit constraint of this hoping-to-be-a-positive piece of writing. Khan’s slogans for change were considered as nothing more than a repetitive, loud and irrelevant background music that went on while the attendees of the main event–in this case, the running of my beloved country, Pakistan–went on with their self-absorbed agendas and myopic debacles of unquantifiable harm. Khan of no-seat, one-seat, and a few seats in various elections remained unflustered.
In 2011, many from other parties joined the PTI. I remember getting Khan’s number from a friend and texting him, comfortably aware that he wouldn’t even remember meeting me in my early 20s. I congratulated him on the historic Lahore rally of October 30, 2011, and he thanked me. For a while, I thought of joining the PTI, but as I started working for a newspaper, I hit a years-long pause on my political ‘aspirations’. To date, I’m not even a member of the PTI, although I still have lingering dreams of being a parliamentarian with the power to do some good for the people. But then all of us don’t work for our dreams, right?
Khan fell off a makeshift stage right before the 2013 elections, was badly hurt, won the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa vote, and much to the surprise of his voters, including me, and many psephologists, lost almost the whole of Punjab, including Lahore. Khan asked for recounting of votes in four constituencies, third-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his band of merry ministers didn’t take Khan’s demand seriously, and the rest is a long protest and the 2014 months-long Islamabad dharna. Khan said he wouldn’t budge from his demand. Khan didn’t.
A few more years passed. Panama Papers hit Pakistan like a bang on a window on a dark, starless night that you think was just wind playing games. It just so happened that Khan took the Panama disclosures as the godsent opportunity to finally hold responsible the political elite of Pakistan that he and millions of Pakistanis believed and still believe to have looted the national treasury as casually as spotted hyenas feast on their daily meal of leftovers of more active predators.
Khan had always demanded the accountability of the alleged corrupt, and although no case against the Sharifs and Zardaris has been filed by him, it was Khan’s single-minded pursuit of accountability for Pakistan’s allegedly plundered money that today a few VVIP politicians of Pakistan are in jail, some sentenced, some awaiting trials. Khan said he would initiate a process of accountability of the very powerful in Pakistan. Khan made it happen.
For years, Khan criticised and lamented the futile, the very long, very expensive war in Afghanistan, stressing the importance of dialogue with the Taliban to end the US war. He called it a US war imposed on Pakistan, unleashing unimaginable human and material loss on Pakistan. He was labelled ‘Taliban Khan’, a terrorist apologist, an extremist. Khan for years insisted on the imperativeness of dialogue for peace, and in 2019, the US is in talks with the Taliban.
Last March, in conversation with one of PTI’s top leaders, having become used to the idea of PTI losing I remember thinking: even in the 2018 elections, PTI wouldn’t get the majority vote. I didn’t know much about other provinces, but I knew PML-N in Punjab, despite Sharif’s incarceration, was the main vote-getter. Oh well. I was wrong. PTI did lose on many seats in Punjab, but it also ended up winning many. PTI won in most parts of Pakistan. Khan’s decades of consistent struggle was finally validated. PTI having bagged millions of votes won the majority seats.
Imran Khan became the prime minister of Pakistan on August 18, 2018. Many, including that seer, had said for years that Khan would be the prime minister of Pakistan one day. Khan said that too. Today, Khan is the prime minister of Pakistan.
Much happened in the last one year. Pakistan, teetering on an economic precipice, gingerly, has added some guardrails, and things are on a gradual mend. Amidst issues macro and micro, challenges gigantic and baffling, strides in the right direction and missteps that are frequent, appointments that are wrong and decisions that are shortsighted, and governance that often leaves much to be desired, Pakistan marches forward, focused on the destination, fully aware of the pitfalls and blind corners on the way. A peaceful, progressive and prosperous Pakistan is the goal of Khan’s government, and based on my years of observing Khan the cricketer, the philanthropist and the politician, I say it, simply, without any stars in my eyes. Pakistan will be more than the dream and vision of Khan. InshaAllah.
Voice of Kashmir
August 5 happened. After India’s abrogation of Article 370, the Indian-administered Kashmir was bifurcated and put under a real and virtual lockdown. Soldiers with guns and tear-gas roam the deserted streets; Kashmiri leaders, even the pro-India ones, are still locked up. Schools are empty; businesses, big and small, are in red; cellphones are blocked; and there is no internet. Kashmir in 2019 is like a Siberian gulag: inaccessible, one-way, chilling, far, far away.
Khan on August 14, 2019, on Pakistan’s 72nd independence day, announced: “I'll become the voice for Kashmir. I will be Kashmir's ambassador.”
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Pakistan, under Khan’s leadership, mainstreamed Kashmir. For the first time in years, Kashmir has become an international headline and a topic on the agenda of many world leaders. The pain of Kashmiris is no longer a footnote in global politics; Kashmir, still in lockdown, is in big neon lights on Times Square, New York, and in the boisterous British parliament. Today, Kashmir is global. And that is because of the efforts of countless Kashmiris living abroad, courageous journalism of Indians and foreigners, selfless activists of many nationalities, and principled leaders from many countries, including Turkey, Malaysia, the UK, the US, China. Kashmir is global because of Pakistan’s Imran Khan’s singular agenda of having justice done to eight million Kashmiris.
On September 27, 2019, Khan addressed a session of the 2019 UNGA. The four-point speech–climate change, money-laundering, Islamophobia and Kashmir–lasted for 50 minutes. Imran Khan made history. No Pakistani leader has ever presented the reality of the enormous tragedy of Kashmir so effectively, so powerfully, so fearlessly, and so dil se, as Prime Minister Imran Khan did at UNGA 2019.
Imran Khan promised to be the voice, the ambassador of Kashmiris. Khan, on September 27, became part of world history as the voice, the ambassador of Kashmiris. His message is for a world that is empathetic, just, compassionate and peaceful.
On September 27, 2019, Imran Khan became more than the prime minister of a developing country. Imran Khan, in time, will be known as a global statesman.